As Tracy Morgan continues to recover from an accident which left one person dead, and Morgan and three others in critical condition at the end of May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating both the driver who caused the accident and big box retailer Wal-Mart’s potential fault in relation to two pending court cases. Truck driver Kevin Roper pled not guilty to all counts in the criminal charges brought against him by prosecutors in Middlesex County, New Jersey in mid-June, and now news that Tracy and his fellow passengers have sued Wal-Mart for their hand in the accident, namely allowing Roper to work while allegedly fatigued.
Driver Kevin Roper has several criminal charges against him, including assault and vehicular homicide. Prosecutors claim Roper was negligent because he had not slept for over 24 hours, resulting in him being distracted or possibly falling asleep at the wheel and causing the six car accident which included the limo bus Tracy Morgan and his fellow passengers were in. The civil suit also alleges that Wal-Mart was negligent in that it allowed Roper to drive some 700 miles from his home in Georgia to a truck depot in Delaware without checking that he was fit to drive, and thus violating the NTSB’s rest break laws.
The full results of the NTSB’s investigation as to whether Wal-Mart is at fault for the Tracy Morgan accident have not been made public yet, but the facts so far seem to be that Roper did drive over 700 miles for his shift at the Wal-Mart depot in Maryland, that there were depots closer to his home that Wal-Mart could have assigned him to, and that Roper was likely awake for more than 24 hours before his shift, though the NTSB has not stated how the latter finding was determined. The NTSB’s rest break rule requires truck drivers to take a rest break of eight consecutive hours for every 24 hours, as well as for 34 consecutive hours before starting their work week. Employers of truck drivers must have checks in place to ensure that the drivers have had sufficient rest before starting a shift and are fit to drive.
What remains to be determined in the cases surrounding the comedian and 30 Rock star’s accident is whether Wal-Mart can prove it performed the necessary checks to determine whether Kevin Roper was fit to drive, and why the retailer allowed him to commute such a far distance when closer locations were accessible to him. The trucking industry is known for its drivers keeping erratic schedules, and it has been difficult for the government to regulate things like breaks and shift limits because many truckers are independent contractors or work for a third-party logistics company, and not the company for whom they are actually transporting goods. The NTSB is thus tasked with putting rest period regulations into place for truck drivers and attempting to enforce them. In the case of Wal-Mart, if Kevin Roper was directly employed by Wal-Mart, the responsibility to ensure that all the regulations set up by the NTSB were followed falls on the employer.
Wal-Mart has said that it will cooperate fully with the NTSB’s investigation surrounding the accident in which Tracy Morgan was involved. Medium and heavy trucks account for only a small fraction of highway fatalities in the U.S. In 2012, out of 33,561 highway fatalities, only 697 of them were caused by commercial trucks, but the NTSB is highlighting Morgan’s case as an example of why there should be tougher regulations in place governing the trucking industry. In an ironic twist, the Senate had voted to weaken some of these regulations, specifically to do away with the 34-hour rest period requirement before the start of the work week, just a few days ahead of the Tracy Morgan crash.
Tracy Morgan’s main aim is still to recover from the accident. He was transferred to a rehabilitative care facility in order to further recuperate from his injuries after he had surgery on his leg on June 20. In the meantime, the outcome of the NTSB’s investigation into whether Wal-Mart is at fault for Kevin Roper’s potential negligence and the cases surrounding the accident which left Tracy Morgan and his friends so critically injured remains to be determined.
By Layla Klamt